Any good batting coach will teach you that great follow through can mean the difference between a 250-foot out and a 400-foot home run. Stopping the bat at the exact point of contact means you intrinsically slow down as you approach the ball. Conversely, accelerating as you hit the ball and following through with the swing achieves maximum velocity at the point of contact which will carry you through to a much more impressive result.
The same principle applies to every aspect of business: job interviews, networking, sales, distribution, customer service, project management, communication, and the list goes on. In Organized for Success, Stephanie Winston writes: “Failure to meet deadlines, honor commitments, monitor staff, return calls and keep track of long-term projects is the most underrated cause of chaos and failure in business life.” Famed American Hero and WWI Fighter Ace Eddie Rickenbacker once said, “I can give you a six-word formula for success: Think things through – then follow through.”
In business, simply completing the task at hand is not enough. Our true power lies in our ability to continue to develop, analyze, track and enhance the relationships, programs and operations we have set in motion. In a recent article I bestowed the importance of “Say what you’re going to do, and do what you say.” Providing superior follow through is the next phase of the process. It essentially means that not only have we made good on our word by doing what we promised, we did it in a timely fashion that met or exceeded expectations.
There is little we can do to make a bigger impact as a CEO, manager, or employee than following through on work commitments. By doing so we demonstrate a pattern of consistent reliability and earn the trust and confidence of our staff, co-workers, clients and customers. So for all its positive rewards and benefits, why do we see so little follow through in our day-to-day interactions? While we could blame everything from apathy to overly burdensome workloads, I suspect many of us simply aren’t sure how to attack proper follow thorough effectively. Here are five basic steps that can help you achieve superior follow through by making it a regular part of your work process:
• Set realistic goals: Goals can and should be challenging, but they must also be attainable. Setting unrealistic or highly unlikely goals quickly leads to frustration, apathy and failure. Set realistic goals and write them down!
• Define your motivation: Breaking the company sales record or getting that big promotion may sound enticing, but neither makes much sense unless there is a clear understanding regarding your own motivation for the accomplishment. What drives you? Money? Recognition among peers? A sense of accomplishment? Once you articulate a clear understanding of what you are truly working toward, you’ll be far more motivated to follow through and do what’s necessary to achieve your goal.
• Commit to the commitment: Any worthwhile goal is going to require effort and sacrifice on your part. Before you commit to a goal or agenda, take a hard look at what that commitment will require. Are you truly prepared to stay the course and devote the time and energy necessary?
• Deadlines and Accountability: Assign a deadline to each step of your process. Hold yourself accountable by reviewing your progress with a co-worker, supervisor or even a spouse. Maintaining deadlines, tracking progress, and having someone to answer to will be a far more effective strategy than just winging it.
• Visualize the Outcome: Through your work process, keep visualizing and anticipating the positive rewards and results of your efforts. These thoughts will help incentivize you to stay on track, achieve your goal and follow through. When we see ourselves following through and being successful, we will achieve success.
A word of caution to managers. While great managers are also great delegators, delegating tasks does not release you from your duty to follow through. When handing off a task to a staff member, two things are crucial. First, the other person must be fully aware of the handoff and understand their responsibility. Second, the delegator must still follow through and verify that the task or project was completed and is satisfactory. In my many years in business, too often I’ve heard, “Well I gave it to Bob to do,” but there was no follow through to verify that Bob actually did it.
A famous comedian has made a career around the catchphrase “Git ‘er done.” Yet in business, just “getting it done” isn’t enough. It is our follow through that sets us apart from our competitors and creates a wealth of new opportunity. It is follow through that actually gets things done, grows our business and earns us a reputation of trust and respect among peers, colleagues and our industry. Recognize the power of follow through and make it synonymous with your company and your personal brand.
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